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2005 Ends, 2006 Begins

The season isn't over -- there's one more game to go, after today's 3-1 loss to the Astros, which assured the Cubs of their first losing record since 2002, and also eliminated them from any possibility of tying Milwaukee for third place.

Ack. That really looks bad, doesn't it? After what we've had the last two seasons, and the hope we had for this year, that's all we had on the final weekend? To tie the BREWERS? And then fail at that, too?

Oh, well. There is significance to tomorrow's game; with Philadelphia's win over Washington today, the Phillies remain a game behind the Astros for the NL Wild Card; thus, a Cub win over Houston and a Phillies win over the Nats tomorrow, would force a wild-card playoff game -- in Philadelphia -- on Monday.

That's the present. The future -- 2006 -- also started today, with the Cubs announcing that Ryan Dempster has been signed to a 3-year, $15 million contract extension.

This is excellent news. Dempster was one of the few bright spots for the 2005 Cubs, having been nearly perfect (33 saves in 35 attempts) as closer since he was moved there in early May. It can be argued that if he'd been given the closer job from the season's outset, as Jim Hendry said he was going to, that the Cubs might have won half-a-dozen more games and would have been right there with the Phillies and Astros as the season comes down to its final day tomorrow.

Can't keep crying over that, right? At least this establishes a role for next year's bullpen, without a doubt, and Hendry has also strongly hinted that Mike Wuertz and Roberto Novoa will be key parts of next year's bullpen. Like Dempster a year ago, both Wuertz and Novoa showed flashes of brilliance, and also flashes of real putridness -- such as Novoa's blown save last night. Both of them have talent, and a year's major league experience ought to help.

About today's game, Roger Clemens again didn't get much run support, but he didn't need much, after the Astros scored two runs while he was actually in the game, he must have thought that was an embarrassment of riches. They added an insurance run off Jerome Williams in the seventh; Williams didn't pitch too badly today, and "flashes of brilliance" could define his season as well. It's clear to me that Williams still has the talent that made him the Giants' #1 pitching prospect a couple of years ago, and he will surely get prime consideration for the 2006 rotation.

I commend to you, as an example of what Williams might become, the following stat lines:

IP    H   R  ER   BB   SO   HR   W   L    ERA
104  98  47  43   45   62   12   6   8   3.72
184 150  77  68   52  150   24   6   8   3.32
The first line is what Williams did this year after his acquisition.

The second is Fergie Jenkins' 1966 season, when he was, as Williams was, acquired early in the season from the Phillies. He was then, as Williams is now, twenty-three years old.

I'm not implying that Williams will be a Hall of Famer -- only that sometimes pitchers with this sort of talent, suddenly harness it with maturity. If that happens, the Cubs will have a #2 starter without having to make a deal or drop a single extra dollar.

Since Derrek Lee was 0-for-2 with two walks, he remains one hit short of 200, one extra-base hit short of 100, and six total bases short of 400. He'll win the NL batting title (and lead both leagues, for whatever that's worth), and will have the highest average by a Cub since Bill Madlock hit .339 in 1976. If he goes 3-for-4 his season average will be .340, the first Cub to hit that high since Madlock's .354 in 1975.

And Jeromy Burnitz, whose option will almost certainly not be picked up by the Cubs and who seems likely to retire, still needs one home run for 300 in his career.

So, there are plenty of reasons to watch tomorrow's game with interest.

Today, it being a lovely, sunny, summerlike October afternoon in Chicago, I took Rachel to the Lincoln Park Zoo, where her particular favorites were the monkeys, especially one who had lost an arm in an accident, but who could still amble about the tree branches with ease.

While I was doing that, my friend David was driving by the ballpark, and snapped a couple of photos that show that the bleacher reconstruction project is, indeed, about to begin: parking is going to be banned on Sheffield and Waveland starting Monday, and the center field TV camera hut is already gone. Thought I'd share them with you.

As Mike would say, sic transit gloria mundi.

Sheffield Avenue, Chicago, Saturday, October 1, 2005

The bleachers, minus the camera hut, Saturday, October 1, 2005

(Photos by David Sameshima)